Skin cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer in the United States, and it affects people of all ages, ethnicity, and skin tone. The majority of skin cancers are relatively benign-acting basal cell and squamous cancers that can be cured with surgery. However, skin cancers starting as moles (melanoma) can be highly dangerous, even terminal. Monthly self-exams are recommended to detect any changes in moles or new growths on the skin. It is important for people with an excessive number of moles, those with a history of prior skin cancers, or anyone with a history of multiple blistering sun burns as a child to see a dermatologist regularly for a total body skin exam.
When you do a self-exam, look for:
To conduct a self-exam of the skin:
If you notice any changes in your skin, a mole, a new skin growth, or if a mole or spot begins to bleed or ooze fluid, see a health care provider. UMMC Dermatologists have expertise in evaluating and diagnosing skin disorders.
After a physical exam by a doctor, additional testing may be required to determine if any abnormal moles, birthmarks, and pigmented areas are cancerous or if skin cancer has spread. These tests may include:
Doctors may suggest a punch biopsy, in which a small instrument is used to take a small core of skin. They can then review the skin sample under a microscope to see if it contains cancerous cells.
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Doctors may take a blood sample to test for lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), an enzyme.
If other tests suggest cancer may have spread to the bones, doctors may recommend a bone scan to confirm. Doctors inject a small amount of radioactive material that travels through the bloodstream and collects in damaged areas of the bones. A scanner can show where it collects. If a bone scan indicates a hot spot, doctors may recommend a biopsy to confirm cancer.
X-rays produce images of the body which may show if a tumor is present. If diagnosed with melanoma, doctors may recommend this test to see if it has spread to the lungs.
A CT scan, sometimes called a CAT scan, provides more detail about what is going on inside the body. During the scan, an X-ray beam moves in a circle around the body and sends digital information to a computer that interprets the data and displays it in two-dimensional form on a monitor. Sometimes a CT scan will be used to help doctors biopsy a specific area, called a CT-guided biopsy.
A dermatoscope, a magnifying lens and light, is held near the skin. Sometimes doctors take a digital picture of the spot.
UMMC Dermatologists also perform Mohs surgery, a highly effective surgical treatment for removing skin cancer. This outpatient procedure allows doctors to spare as much healthy tissue as possible surrounding the cancerous tissue. It also promotes high cure rates, and the best cosmetic results of any skin cancer removal method.
In this procedure, a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein, and a scanner makes detailed digital pictures of the area of the body where the glucose is used. Because cancer cells often use more glucose than normal cells, the pictures can be used to find clusters of cancer cells in the body.
This single scan combines the ability of a CT scan to show tissue that looks abnormal and a PET scan to show tissue that acts abnormally. The UMMC Cancer Institute radiology department’s PET/CT scanner offers the highest level of detailed image quality currently available. The ability to look at CT and PET images together helps doctors more precisely identify the location of abnormal, possibly malignant (cancerous), tissue in the body.